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Claude Monet: Vol 1


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With Impression, Sunrise, exhibited in 1874, Claude Monet (18401926) took part in thecreation of the Impressionist movement that introduced the 19th century to modern art. All his life, he captured natural movements around him and translated them into visual sensations. A complex man and an exceptional artist, Monet is internationally famous for his poetic paintings of waterlilies and beautiful landscapes. He leaves behind the most wellknown masterpieces that still fascinate art lovers all over the world.
In this twovolume illustrated work, Natalia Brodskaya and Nina Kalitina invite us on a journey across time to discover the history of Impressionism and Monet; a movement and an artist forever bound together. Specialists of 19th and 20th century art, the authors shed light on the birth of modernity in art, a true revolution responsible for the thriving art scene of the 20th century.



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ISBN: 978-1-78525-697-4Nathalia Brodskaïa and Nina Kalitina

Claude Monet
Volume 1

Impression, Sunrise, 1837.
Oil on canvas, 48 x 63 cm. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris.C o n t e n t s

Monet, the Man
The Impressionists and Academic Painting
The Precursors
The First Impressionist Exhibition
Fellow Impressionists
Édouard Manet (1832-1883)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
His Life – Childhood and Adolescence
His Life – The First Major Step
His Life – The Fight against Tradition
List of IllustrationsPierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Claude Monet, 1875.
Oil on canvas, 84 x 60.5 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.


Impression, Sunrise (1873, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) was the prescient title of one of Claude
Monet’s paintings shown in 1874 in the first exhibition of the Impressionists, or as they called
themselves then, the Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc. (The
Anonymous Society of Artist, Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers). Monet had gone painting in his
childhood hometown of Le Havre to prepare for the event, eventually selecting his best Havre
landscapes for display. Edmond Renoir, journalist brother of Renoir the painter, compiled the
catalogue. He criticised Monet for the uniform titles of his works, for the painter had not come up
with anything more interesting than View of Le Havre. Among these Havre landscapes was a canvas
painted in the early morning depicting a blue fog that seemed to transform the shapes of yachts into
ghostly apparitions. The painting also depicted smaller boats gliding over the water in black
silhouette, and above the horizon the flat, orange disk of the sun, its first rays casting an orange path
across the sea. It was more like a rapid study than a painting, a spontaneous sketch done in oils – what
better way to seize the fleeting moment when sea and sky coalesce before the blinding light of day?
View of Le Havre was obviously an inappropriate title for this particular painting, as Le Havre was
nowhere to be seen. “Write Impression,” Monet told Edmond Renoir, and in that moment began the
story of Impressionism.
On 25 April 1874, the art critic Louis Leroy published a satirical piece in the journal Charivari
that described a visit to the exhibition by an official artist. As he moves from one painting to the next,
the artist slowly goes insane. He mistakes the surface of a painting by Camille Pissarro, depicting a
ploughed field, for shavings from an artist’s palette carelessly deposited onto a soiled canvas. When
looking at the painting he is unable to tell top from bottom, or one side from the other. He is
horrified by Monet’s landscape entitled Boulevard des Capucines. Indeed, in Leroy’s satire, it is
Monet’s work that pushes the academician over the edge. Stopping in front of one of the Havre
landscapes, he asks what Impression, Sunrise depicts. “Impression, of course,” mutters the
academician. “I said so myself, too, because I am so impressed, there must be some impression in
here… and what freedom, what technical ease!” At which point he begins to dance a jig in front of the
paintings, exclaiming: “Hey! Ho! I’m a walking impression, I’m an avenging palette knife”. Leroy
called his article, “The Exhibition of the Impressionists”. With typical French finesse, he had adroitly
coined a new word from the painting’s title, a word so fitting that it was destined to remain forever in
the vocabulary of the history of art. Responding to questions from a journalist in 1880, Monet said:
“I’m the one who came up with the word, or who at least, through a painting that I had exhibited,
provided some reporter from Le Figaro the opportunity to write that scathing article. It was a big hit,
as you know.”Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, 1872.
Oil on canvas, 65 x 50 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Monet, the Man

Gustave Geffroy, the friend and biographer of Claude Monet, reproduced two portraits of the artist in
his monograph. In the first, painted by an artist of no distinction, Monet is eighteen years of age. A
dark-haired young man in a striped shirt, he is perched astride a chair with his arms folded across its
His pose suggests an impulsive and lively character; his face, framed by shoulder-length hair,
shows both unease in the eyes and a strong will in the line of the mouth and the chin.
Geffroy begins the second part of his book with a photographic portrait of Monet at the age of
A stocky old man with a thick, white beard stands confidently, his feet set wide apart; calm and
wise, Monet knows the value of things and believes only in the undying power of art. Not by chance
has he chosen to pose with a palette in his hand in front of a panel from the Water Lilies series.
Numerous portraits of Monet have survived – self-portraits, the works of his friends (Manet and
Renoir among others), photographs by Carjat and Nadar – all of them reproducing his features at
various stages in his life.
Many literary descriptions of Monet’s physical appearance have come down to us as well,
particularly after he had become well-known and much in demand by art critics and journalists. How
then does Monet appear to us? Take a photograph from the 1870s. He is no longer a young man but a
mature individual with a dense, black beard and moustache, only the top of his forehead hidden by
closely-cut hair.
The expression of his brown eyes is decidedly lively, and his face as a whole exudes confidence
and energy. This is Monet at the time of his uncompromising struggle for new aesthetic ideals. Now
take his self-portrait in a beret dating from 1886, the year that Geffroy met him on the island of
BelleÎle off the south coast of Brittany.
“At first glance”, Geffroy recalls, “I could have taken him for a sailor, because he was dressed in a
jacket, boots, and hat very similar to the sort that they wear.”
“He would put them on as protection against the sea-breeze and the rain.” A few lines later
Geffroy writes: “He was a sturdy man in a sweater and beret with a tangled beard and brilliant eyes
which immediately pierced into me.” In 1919, when Monet was living almost as a recluse at Giverny,
not far from Vernon-sur-Seine, he was visited by Fernand Léger, who saw him as “a shortish
gentleman in a panama hat and elegant light-grey suit of English cut… He had a large, white beard, a
pink face, little eyes that were bright and cheerful but with perhaps a slight hint of mistrust…”
Both the visual and the literary portraits of Monet depict him as an unstable, restless figure.
He was capable of producing an impression of boldness and audacity or he could seem, especially
in the latter years of his life, confident and placid. But those who remarked on Monet’s serenity and
restraint were guided only by his external appearance. Both the friends of his youth, Bazille, Renoir,
Cézanne, Manet, and the visitors to Giverny who were close to him – first and foremost Gustave
Geffroy, Octave Mirbeau, and Georges Clemenceau – were well aware of the attacks of tormenting
dissatisfaction and nagging doubt to which he was prone.
His gradually mounting annoyance and discontent with himself would frequently find an outlet in
acts of unbridled and elemental fury, when Monet would destroy dozens of canvasses, scraping off
the paint, cutting them up into pieces, and sometimes even burning them.
The art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, to whom Monet was bound by contract, received a whole host of
letters from him requesting that the date for a showing of paintings be deferred. Monet would write
that he had “not only scraped off, but simply torn up” the studies he had begun, that for his own
satisfaction it was essential to make alterations, that the results he had achieved were
“incommensurate with the amount of effort expended”, that he was in “a bad mood” and “no good foranything”.
Monet was capable of showing considerable civic courage, but was occasionally guilty of
faintheartedness and inconsistency. Thus in 1872 Monet, together with the painter Eugène Boudin, visited
the idol of his youth, Gustave Courbet, in prison – an event perhaps not greatly significant in itself,
but given the general hounding to which the Communard Courbet was subject at that time, an act
both brave and noble.
With regard to the memory of Édouard Manet, Monet was the only member of the circle around
the former leader of the Batignolles group to take action upon hearing, in 1889, from the American
artist John Singer Sargent, that Manet’s masterpiece Olympia might be sold to the USA.
It was Monet who called upon the French public to collect the money to buy the painting for the
Louvre. Again, at the time of the Dreyfus affair in the 1890s Monet sided with Dreyfus’ supporters
and expressed his admiration for the courage of Emile Zola.Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Claude Monet, 1872.
Oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris.La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, 1865.
Oil on canvas, 90.2 x 150.5 cm.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (Texas).


The Impressionists and Academic Painting

A more domestic episode testifies to the warmth of Monet’s nature: after becoming a widower, he
remarried in the 1880s. Alice Hoschedé has five children from her first marriage. Monet received
them all with open arms and invariably referred to them as “my children”. There was, however,
another side to Monet. In the late 1860s, suffering acutely from poverty and lack of recognition,
Monet on several occasions left his first wife Camille and their young son Jean, virtually abandoning
Giving in to fits of despair, he would rush off somewhere, anywhere, just to change his
surroundings and escape from an environment in which he had suffered personal and professional
failure. On one occasion he even resolved to take his own life.
Similarly hard to justify is Monet’s behaviour towards the other Impressionists when, following
Renoir’s example, he broke their ‘sacred union’ and refused to take part in the group’s fifth, sixth,
and eighth exhibitions. Degas was not unjustified in accusing him of thoughtless self-advertising
when he learned of Monet’s refusal to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1880.
Finally, Monet’s hostile attitude to Paul Gauguin was quite indefensible. These examples make the
contradictions of Monet’s character quite clear. The reader might justifiably ask: why write about
personal features in an essay on an artist, particularly when some of these show Monet in a
notespecially-attractive light?
It is, however, always dangerous to divide a single, integral personality into two halves – on the
one hand, the ordinary man with all the complexities and upheavals of his individual lot; on the other,
the brilliant painter who wrote his name in the history of world art.
Great works of art are not created by ideal people, and if knowledge of their personality does not
actually assist us in understanding their masterpieces, then at least it can explain a great deal about the
circumstances in which the masterpieces were created.
Monet’s abrupt changes of mood, his constant dissatisfaction with himself, his spontaneous
decisions, stormy emotion and cold methodicalness, his consciousness of himself as a personality
moulded by the preoccupations of his age, set against his extreme individualism – taken togetherthese features elucidate much in Monet’s creative processes and attitudes towards his own work. The
young men who would become the Impressionists formed a group in the early 1860s. Claude Monet,
son of a Le Havre shopkeeper, Frédéric Bazille, son of a wealthy Montpellier family, Alfred Sisley,
son of an English family living in France, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, son of a Parisian tailor, had all
come to study painting in the independent studio of Charles Gleyre, whom in their view was the only
teacher who truly personified Neo-classical painting.The Lighthouse at the Hospice, 1864.
Oil on canvas, 54 x 81 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich.Alfred Sisley, The Barges, c. 1870.
Oil on canvas, 69 x 100 cm, Musée de Dieppe, Dieppe.

Gleyre had just turned sixty when he met the future Impressionists. Born in Switzerland on the
banks of Lake Léman, he had lived in France since childhood. After graduating from the École des
Beaux-Arts, Gleyre spent six years in Italy.
Success in the Paris Salon made him famous and he taught in the studio established by the
celebrated Salon painter, Hippolyte Delaroche. Taking themes from the Bible and antique mythology,
Gleyre painted large-scale canvasses composed with classical clarity. The formal qualities of his
female nudes can only be compared to the work of the great Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
In Gleyre’s independent studio, pupils received traditional training in Neo-classical painting, but
were free from the official requirements of the École des Beaux-Arts.
Our best source of information regarding the future Impressionists’ studies with Gleyre is none
other than Renoir himself, in conversation with his son, the renowned filmmaker Jean Renoir. The
elder Renoir described his teacher as a “powerful Swiss, bearded and near-sighted” and remembered
Gleyre’s Latin Quarter studio, on the left bank of the Seine, as “a big empty room packed with young
men bent over their easels. Grey light spilled onto the model from a picture window facing north,
according to the rules”.
Gleyre’s students could hardly be less alike. Young men from wealthy families who were playing
at being artists came to the studio wearing jackets and black velvet berets.
Monet derisively called these students ‘the grocers’ on account of their narrow minds. The white
house-painter’s coat that Renoir worked in was the butt of their jokes. But Renoir and his new friends
paid them no heed. “He was there to learn how to draw figures,” his son recalls. “As he covered his
paper with strokes of charcoal, he was soon completely engrossed in the shape of a calf or the curve
of a hand.”
Renoir and his friends took art school seriously, to such an extent that Gleyre was disconcerted by
the extraordinary facility with which Renoir worked. Renoir mimicked his teacher’s criticisms in a
funny Swiss accent that the students used to make fun of him: “Cheune homme, fous êdes drès atroit,
drès toué, mais on tirait que fous beignez bour fous amuser.” (Young man, you are very talented
and very gifted, but people say that you paint just for fun). As Jean Renoir tells it: “‘Obviously,’ my
father replied, ‘if it wasn’t any fun, I wouldn’t paint!’”
All four artists burned with desire to grasp the principles of painting and Neo-classical technique;
after all, this was the reason that they had come to Gleyre’s studio. They applied themselves to thestudy of the nude figure and successfully passed all their required exam competitions, receiving prizes
for drawing, perspective, anatomy, and likeness. Each of the future Impressionists received Gleyre’s
praise on some occasion.
One day Renoir decided to impress his teacher by painting a nude according to all the rules, as he
put it: “tan flesh emerging from bitumen black as night, backlighting caressing the shoulder, and the
tortured look that accompanies stomach cramps”.The Beach at Honfleur, 1864-1866. Oil on canvas, 60 x 81 cm.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.Gustave Courbet, Sunset, Trouville, c. 1870.
Oil on canvas, 71.8 x 103.2 cm. Private collection.Rue de la Bavole, Honfleur, 1864. Oil on canvas,
55.9 x 61 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The Precursors

Gleyre was struck by Renoir’s impertinence and his shock and indignation were not unwarranted: his
student had proved that he was perfectly capable of painting as the teacher required, whereas all the
other youths were bent on depicting their models “as they are in everyday life”.
Monet remembers the way Gleyre reacted to one of his own nudes: “Not bad,” he exclaimed, “not
bad at all, this business here. But it is too much about this particular model. You have a heavyset
man. He has huge feet, which you depict as such. It’s all very ugly. So remember young man, when we
draw a figure, we must always keep in mind the antique. Nature, my friend, is a very admirable aspect
of research, but it provides no interest.” To the future Impressionists, nature was exactly what
interested them most. Renoir remembered what Frédéric Bazille had told him when they first met:
“Large-scale, classical compositions are over. The spectacle of everyday life is more fascinating.”
All of them preferred living nature and bristled at Gleyre’s disdain for landscape. One of Gleyre’s
students recalls:
Landscape to him was a decadent art and the eminent status it had gained in contemporary art
was an usurpation; he saw nothing in nature beyond frames and grounds, and in truth he never
made use of nature except as an accessory, although his landscapes were always treated with
as much care and consideration as the figures he was called upon to include.
Nevertheless, students in Gleyre’s studio would be hard-pressed to find any constraints to complain
about. It is true that the programme included the study of antique sculpture and the paintings of
Raphael and Ingres at the Louvre.
But in reality the students enjoyed complete freedom. They were acquiring indispensable knowledge
of the technique and craft of painting, mastery of classical composition, precision in drawing, and
beautiful paint handling, although later critics often rightly noted their lack of such achievements.
Monet, Bazille, Renoir, and Sisley abruptly left their teacher in 1863. Rumour had it that the
studio was closing due to lack of funds and to Gleyre’s illness. In the spring of 1863, Bazille wrote to
his father: “Mr Gleyre is rather ill. Apparently the poor man’s life is at stake. All his students are
devastated, as he is so loved by those around him.”Gleyre’s illness was not the only reason the formal training of the Impressionists came to an end.
In all likelihood they felt that they had learned everything their teacher was capable of teaching them
during the time they had already spent in the studio. They were young and full of enthusiasm. Ideas
about a new modern art made them want to get out of the studio as soon as possible to immerse
themselves in real life and its vitality.
On their way home from Gleyre’s studio, Bazille, Monet, Sisley, and Renoir stopped at the
Closerie des Lilas, a café on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Avenue de l’Observatoire,
where they had long discussions about the future direction of painting.
Bazille brought along his new friend, Camille Pissarro, who was a few years older than the others.
The members of this small group called themselves the ‘intransigents’ and together they dreamt of a
new Renaissance. Many years later, the elder Renoir spoke enthusiastically about this period to his
son. Jean Renoir writes:
The intransigents wanted to put their immediate impressions on canvas, without any
translation. Official painting, imitating imitations of the masters, was dead. Renoir and his
companions were bon vivants… Meetings of the intransigents were impassioned. They
longed to share their discovery of the truth with the public. Ideas came from all sides and
intermingled; opinions came thick and fast. One of them seriously suggested burning down the
Louvre.Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur, 1865. Oil on canvas,
89.5 x 150.5 cm. Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.